Between her gigs on Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All in the early ’90s and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Melissa Joan Hart has a place in the hearts of many nostalgic once-upon-a-teens. But the former kid star is all grown up now and currently on ABC Family’s just-renewed Melissa & Joey, starring opposite fellow ’90s staple Joey Lawrence as Hart’s character’s male nanny.
EW caught up with Hart for a chat about the past and present, and though much time has gone by since she first broke the fourth wall as Clarissa, it’s clear that even after all this time, she still has no trouble still explaining it all.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Please explain…why Sam had a ladder to Clarissa’s room and her parents didn’t mind.
MELISSA JOAN HART: You know, we never really addressed it. Actually, there was a blooper reel where Joe [O’Connor], the guy who played my father, said, “Sam comes in here, every day, unannounced, into my daughter’s room…” So we were aware of it on set, but on the show we never addressed it. I think it was just that Clarissa was a good kid and was trusted by her parents to do the right thing. They knew he was her best friend, and he was not a threat. I think they also wanted to break some stereotypes, including that a girl could be the lead on a show. Until that time, there had not been a female lead on a show that held male attention. You had I Love Lucy and Mary Tyler Moore, but those were considered female shows. Boys and men didn’t watch it necessarily. So when we got a lot of male viewers, that broke a lot of records. So I think they were trying to show that a girl and boy could be friends. They could be platonic. I think that was a way of showing [her parents] trusted them.
Please explain…the time someone mentioned Clarissa to you.
I just got a [Tweet] from some girl who was named Clarissa after the show. That was sweet. That’s one of the first times I can remember someone saying they were named for Clarissa. Usually I get ‘Sabrina’ for that kind of thing. [Clarissa] is still a pretty rare name, I think. What’s interesting is that I was named for the Allman Brothers song, “Sweet Melissa.” I always thought it was cool that my name came from somewhere like that. So that’s pretty awesome, I think. But whenever I hear that people are named Sabrina after the character, I always apologize because I bet you everywhere they go, people ask, [says in a mocking tone] “Oh, are you a witch?” [Laughs.]
Please explain…how you almost ended up on Blossom!
I auditioned for them side-by-side. I was actually offered the part of Six — or came really close. So I sort of had to make a decision about what show I wanted to be on. I think that things definitely worked out for the best. And Jenna [von Oy] was amazing as Six. I don’t think I could have done what she did.
Please explain…your best memories of Clarissa days.
The set designers building my replica of the Globe Theatre for my art project at school. I had to build a replica of Shakespeare’s theater, and they totally helped me because I couldn’t get it done. [Laughs] They built it for me, and I put the final details on it. I couldn’t tell you about an episode — I remember certain scenes and costumes and certain things from watching the blooper reel over and over again — but the memories, for me, are like high school. You don’t necessarily remember what you learned, but you remember the people who were in your class and what you did at recess. I remember learning to drive in the Universal Studios parking lot, and I remember learning a lot about directing and the way the business works.
Please explain…your most memorable moment on Sabrina.
What really sticks out are the opening titles. Every week we had a different opening title where it would be me changing costume three times, and the fourth time would be different every single episode. And we had to shoot those late at night on a Friday, so we might not wrap the show until one or two in the morning. Then we’d stay late to shoot these freaking opening titles. We were always mad about doing it, but it was so funny. I put on the most ridiculous costumes. We’d only do it once a month, so I’d film three or four at a time. So I’d put on a Carmen Miranda outfit and the writers would think of something for me to say. But behind the scenes, we’d do some for the blooper reel where I say something dirty. Like if I was a reindeer, I’d say, “Nice rack. I’m a horny little…something.” We did some for us and some for the show.
Please explain…where you think Sabrina would be today.
I don’t give it a whole lot of thought. [Laughs] People keep asking me for a reunion, but I don’t see that happening. I would assume [Sabrina and Harvey] would be married, have gotten in a few fights by now, had maybe two or three kids and would be dealing with all the usual. Because she was half mortal, and she married a mortal. I don’t know the math on that. I’d have to ask the writers what the [show] bible says about that — being a quarter magical. So how much power would the kids have? Sabrina came into it at 16, so maybe it’d happen to them at 32. So when they were 32, she’d have to explain to them that they were a quarter magical. I don’t know. It’d be interesting.
Please explain…how you and Joey Lawrence survived being child stars
It was a different school back then. First of all, social networking was off the table; forget getting yourself out there whenever you want to. It was all very calculated decisions. And we didn’t grow up in Hollywood necessarily. Joe and I didn’t. Part of my success started in Florida, and I was living in New York. I was out of the Hollywood lifestyle and that definitely helped. I’d say 70 percent of it was my parents and family, 10 percent was that I wasn’t in L.A., and the other 20 was the other people in my life. And the industry back then was all about the work ethic. Joey has a really good way of putting it: Back then, if you didn’t know your lines…they brought in another kid. There was constantly 20 people lined up behind you for your job. That built all of us into wanting to have careers and longevity. We all wanted to do it. It wasn’t about being famous or making money. It was about being a kid and going to work. It wasn’t about being the next Justin Bieber. That stuff just didn’t happen.
Please explain…what’s next on Melissa & Joey
Actually, next week is one of my favorites. A Japanese business man comes to Toledo, and I try to woo him into starting a business in Toledo. But I can’t speak Japanese, so Joey comes in to translate for me. Then the guy starts to hit on me — and Joey doesn’t like it. So he tells the guy that I have diarrhea and can’t go have a drink with him. It’s one of my favorite episodes. But what I really like about the show that I think a lot of people haven’t caught on to yet is that…people expect that it’s a kid friendly Disney show. If you’ve seen it, it’s slightly edgy. It’s a traditional sitcom in the vein of Rules of Engagement or Big Bang Theory. I think we’re actually racier than The Big Bang Theory. We’re more like How I Met Your Mother. Of course, everyone wants to compare us to Disney Channel shows and Who’s the Boss? While the structure is similar to Who’s the Boss?, I think we’re more a little more adult. So if people tune in this season, they’ll see some really fun storylines happening. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, we’re just trying to make people laugh.